Nothing can place you in the middle of the action like sound coming from all around you. Surround sound technologies use multiple audio tracks and strategic speaker placement to add to the immersive experience of home theater. Properly done, surround sound will place you in the middle of the herd of dinosaurs running from the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Once you have found a group of receivers with respectable sound quality, you can use their surround sound capabilities to separate the contenders.
Like every thing else in home entertainment there are different competing and complementary technologies. Modern AV receivers will reproduce many different surround sound encoding schemes from different companies. Some of the more common formats for home theater are:
When auditioning the surround sound capabilities of receivers, what you are listening for is localized sound. Sound that
is supposed to enter from the back left and move to the front should do just that. Analog TV, VHS, CD, DVD, Digital Cable, Satellite, HD DVD and Blu-Ray Disc are all encoded with different sets of surround sound formats. The receiver with the ability to decode the greatest number of surround formats will best be able to provide you with the immersive experience in the greatest number of situations, all other things being equal.
Before we jump into a discussion on the current dueling digital formats, it is important to understand the analog technologies that preceded them.